LSNP AGM: Lawyers should give back to society

March 1st, 2018

Commander in Chief of the Economic Freedom Fighters, Julius Sello Malema, addressing attendees at the Law Society of the Northern Provinces AGM held late last year. Mr Malema said the question the legal profession should ask itself is: What value is the profession adding to society?

By Mapula Sedutla

The Law Society of the Northern Provinces (LSNP) held its 125th annual general meeting and conference late last year at Sun City. Speakers at the conference included Commander in Chief of the Economic Freedom Fighters, Julius Sello Malema; and Judge President of the Mpumalanga Division of the High Court, Judge Malesela Francis Legodi.

Outgoing President of the LSNP, Lutendo Sigogo, opened the proceedings by saying 2017 marks a monumental year in the legal profession in the country. He added: ‘In the Northern provinces, which makes up this law society, it marks the completion of 125 years since the incorporated Law Society of the Transvaal was established in 1892. This is probably the final year in which we will congregate in this form, as in terms of the Legal Practice Amendment Bill 2017 the lifespan of the law society is expected to come to an end by not later than 31 October 2018. The new dispensation under the Legal Practice Council will take effect.’

Reflecting on what the law society in its current form means, Mr Sigogo said: ‘As we prepare ourselves to welcome the new era, we must also reflect on what the law society in its current form means to us. It gives us mixed feelings. Some of us see it as a great legacy spreading over a period of more than a century. It has been there since 1892 save for Eastern province closure as a result of the 1899 Anglo-Boer war. During this period it regulated the affairs of the profession, and at the same time protected the interests of the public. On the other hand, it protected and developed the interests of its members, the attorneys. But, to some of us, it is such a monster which terrorised members because of the colour of their skin and gender.’

Mr Sigogo went on further to state: ‘It is this law society in 1909, which opposed the admission of Alfred Mangena, the first black, in fact the first African, to be admitted as an attorney, because he was black. It argued that if Mangena was to be admitted as an attorney he will encourage black people to disregard the law and/or to have more legal disputes amongst them. Members are in this regard referred to the reported case, which is Mangena v Law Society 1910 TDP 649. … It was also this law society in 1978, which opposed the admission of Dikgang Moseneke – now recently retired Deputy Chief Justice of the country – as an attorney on the basis that he was not a South African, because as a result of Bantustans law he happened to fall under the then Republic of Bophuthatswana. We should remind each other that when we close this law society and usher in the Legal Practice Council, we say good-bye to such an ugly side of the history of our society. We open doors to the profession, which must be free of all forms of prejudice which held us back as a nation for many years.’

Lawyers as economic freedom fighters

Addressing delegates at the AGM, Mr Malema began his address by saying: ‘I am not sure if you chose the rightful person to come and speak to you, because when you invite us to come and speak to you, you must be prepared to hear things you are not ready to receive, because we tell the truth the way it is.’

Mr Malema went on further to state that the question the legal profession should ask, outside the normal legal practice is, ‘What value is the profession adding to society?’ He added: ‘The question you must ask yourself is whether you are self-obsessed with legal matters only, and not care that our country, South Africa is on the road of joining many other failed African states. … Our country, South Africa is in a massive crisis, crisis of economic exclusion of black majority and African sympathique. As we stand here, more than 30 million South Africans live below the poverty line. Almost 10 million South Africans who need jobs are jobless. The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. The spaces of reserve labourers created by Apartheid, the villages, the townships, the hostels are not improving. They continue to produce poverty and suffering the same way they did under Apartheid. The racial economic inequalities for even children born post 1994 are still defined along the lines of black poverty and white privilege.’

Mr Malema noted that big law firms in the country are white owned. He asked: ‘Why are black lawyers not starting big black owned law firms, which will treat candidate attorneys with some degree of respect? The biggest law firms in South Africa should be owned by black people because this is a majority black people’s country. The state should use section 9(2) of the Constitution to pass legislation that gives preference to black owned law firms and resolve that all government departments and entities at all levels should brief black law firms.’

Commenting on the Legal Practice Act 28 of 2014 (LPA), Mr Malema said the LPA should be a platform to drive deeper transformation of the legal fraternity, but it does not and will not. He added: ‘The transformation of the legal fraternity means that ordinary people should gain access to quality legal representation wherever they are and whichever class position they are in. It looks like majority of legal practitioners are content with the status quo of a legal fraternity that only service rich people. How many of you as lawyers offer legal services to poor and helpless widows whose estates are being robbed by criminals? How many of you, as lawyers, commit that at least 10% of your court appearance per year will be pro bono?’

Mr Malema stated that lawyers do not need to belong to a political organisation to condemn corruption and theft of public funds. ‘You do not need to be a politician to stand against capture of state-owned companies. Do not ever think that court appearances and making light heated comments on social media is adequate. Robert Sobukwe, Nelson Mandela, OR Tambo, Duma Nokwe, and many others understood that the battles had to be fought in court, but also on the streets.’

Speaking about land expropriation without compensation, Mr Malema said: ‘In the absence of taking [land] … through legislation and through introduction of progressive laws, nothing has happened. We said, willing buyer, willing seller of the land. There is no money. I said to you black people are becoming poorer and poorer, where will you get the money to buy the land? Okay, let us say you are fortunate … you have the money to buy the land, there must be a willing seller. There is no longer a willing seller, even if you have the money. And in the absence of the willingness to sell, the land will remain in the hands of the minorities. We must come up with a legislation that says we need this land shared amongst our people. And when we say we are expropriating the land for equal redistribution, they say you want to take land from white people. Listen to me, for equal redistribution, not for black distribution. Both black and white must own the land equally. There is nothing special about whites that they must own more land than black people. We must own this land equally. I do not want to go into the history of how the land was taken from our people, we all know that. We are not calling for vengeance. We are calling for a demographic process to redistribute the land. Let everybody buy in, black and white, because if it is not done in an orderly manner through legislation, through a demographic process, revolution is unavoidable. And you will lose this land through a revolution, and an unled revolution is anarchy. Both me and you will be victims.’

Mr Malema noted that new female entrants into the legal fraternity should be empowered. He cautioned male lawyers by saying ‘women are not tools to be used in the bedroom. When you see women, you must see an equal partner, and then you must engage from the same level’.

Speaking about black lawyers, Mr Malema said: ‘Black lawyers, many of you disappoint us. When you provide services to your fellow blacks you are not professional. Blacks do not treat each other with respect. … I use both black and white lawyers, of course preferably black for historical reasons. I empower black people. I have never had a white lawyer saying to me, “oh, Chief, I forgot that letter”. Never. But it is always the case with our brothers. … Empowerment of black people does not mean empowerment of laziness. Empowerment of black people does not mean empowerment of mediocrity. We need quality from black people. Do not take advantage and say no, because it is us [black lawyers] they will empower us. You have to earn it. You must sweat for it, because your failure is a failure of the whole village. … Please, let us provide proper service. But also we must prove to those who say we are inherently incompetent.’

Judge President of the Mpumalanga Division of the High Court, Judge Legodi spoke about what it takes to be a great lawyer.

How to be a great lawyer

The second speaker at the AGM, Judge President Legodi, began his address by speaking about the division he is deployed to. Judge President Legodi said: ‘In terms of subsection 3 of section 6 of the Superior Courts Act [10 of 2013 (the Act)], the Minister must determine the area of jurisdiction of the Mpumalanga division. That has not taken place as yet. As a result, in terms of subsection 2 of section 50 of the Act, the Gauteng division continues to function as the Mpumalanga division until a notice as contemplated in subsection 3 of section 6 is published. Therefore, we are still dependent on the Gauteng division for judges to operate in Mpumalanga division of the High Court. For this we are greatly indebted to Judge President Mlambo for his generosity and guidance.’

Speaking about transformation, Judge President Legodi noted: ‘I have made an undertaking that transformation and gender sensitivity in the judiciary will be one of my priorities. Most of the practitioners who are appearing in our division on a daily basis are young, determined ladies. I think they are going very far, despite the tough time which they have in court from the Bench. Not very long, their actions and competency … will be speaking for them.’

Judge President Legodi asked: ‘What does it take to be a great lawyer?’ Answering that question he said: ‘It is said a great lawyer is the one who has analytic skills, the one who is creative, the one who has research skills, inter-personal skills, legal thinking ability, perseverance, public-speaking skills. It is the one who pursues continuous education, the one who has reading comprehensive skills and writing skills. … Success in a profession as lawyers is ideally measured by your ability to serve not only your clients because they pay you, but also your ability to serve those who cannot pay you anything. You do this by offering yourself to them. A true successful lawyer is the one who is motivated by loving concern rather than a desire for personal glory. In that way you become a true servant of our society. There is a wrong perception that to be a successful lawyer you need to make a lot of money. That is wrong.’

Incoming President of the Law Society of the Northern Provinces, Sbu Gule.

Speaking about the LPA, Judge President Legodi said that the purpose of the LPA, among others, is one, to broaden access to justice by putting in place a mechanism to determine fees chargeable by legal practitioners for legal services rendered, that are within the reach of the many people. ‘Two, to broaden access to justice by putting in place measures to provide for rendering of community service by candidate attorneys. This is section 3 of the Legal Practice Act. … The purpose is loud and clear. These candidate attorneys are going to need your guidance and mentorship. They should not be made to feel like they are being made money-making machines, or filing machines. Remember, the experience and knowledge you have acquired in the course of time is meant to be passed over to others for generations to come. Take them to those villages where many of us come from to make them understand what it takes and means to be a true community worker, hoping that when they complete their period of articles they will find it necessary to return to those villages and serve. There can be no basis not to embrace these noble values underpinned in our Constitution as contemplated in the Legal Practice Act,’ Judge President Legodi added.

Other speakers at the AGM included:

  • Member of the National Forum on the Legal Profession, Kathleen Matolo-Dlepu, who gave an update on the work done thus far by the National Forum.
  • Chairperson of the Attorneys Fidelity Fund (AFF), Strike Madiba, who gave a report on the AFF.
  • Co-chairpersons of the Law Society of South Africa (LSSA), Walid Brown and David Bekker, who gave a report on the LSSA.
  • Chairperson of the Attorneys Development Fund (ADF), Nomahlubi Khwinana, who gave a report on the ADF.

See also:

Mapula Sedutla NDip Journ (DUT) BTech (Journ) (TUT) is the editor of De Rebus.

This article was first published in De Rebus in 2017 (Dec) DR 4.